Willing To Be Willing

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger… [Ephesians 4:21(a)]

Do you cling to any traces of bitterness?

Last week I wrote about talking to a younger version of me (Teaching Me). As I re-read my account of learning a scarcity mentality, it felt like I wrote a bit dispassionately. My words seemed somewhat cold and academic; I think I told the story but scrubbed away the raw emotions.

Fact is, I still harbor some bitterness toward my dad. I’m not proud of that, but there it is.

He did what he knew—there was no evil intent on his part. And he’s been gone for more than a year. Why am I still bitter?

Sometimes bitterness is right out in the open. Someone harms me and I want to strike back. I want vengeance. I want to get even.

That sort of acrimony can bury me in hatred, but at least it’s apparent. I see the danger, and I can choose to confront and resolve it.

I think the nastiest form of bitterness sneaks into the dark corners of our hearts. It hides behind old hurts and almost-forgotten struggles and festers within accumulated, unacknowledged slights. This subtle bitterness secretes venom in nearly imperceptible doses until our hearts harden and crack from long-term toxic exposure.

Bitterness also seems to create a cycle like the steps in the picture. The poison engenders more anger and an escalating desire for vengeance, leading to even greater bitterness. It’s an endless death spiral, every downward step leading inevitably to the next.

I have a sense that there’s no such thing as a “little” bitterness. One taste of “getting even” leaves us wanting more and still more, and down the steps we go.


The encouraging aspect of the steps is that they lead eternally down—or up. I think we get to choose which direction we travel. So if bitterness destroys like poison, what’s the antidote? What’s the secret to stepping upward?

I think the antidote is forgiveness. I need to recognize my dad’s impact (done), acknowledge the pain (done), and then sincerely let go of the resentment (uhhh…apparently not quite done).

I don’t wish to be overly self-critical. Forgiveness isn’t an event as much as a process. As my friend Jeff Lucas says, the critical step is “to be willing to be willing” to forgive. Perhaps that’s the key to turning the cycle around and walking up the steps toward light and freedom.

It’s not about sprinting, or even getting, to the top. It’s about stepping up rather than down.

If my feelings are an accurate barometer, I don’t think I’ve completely forgiven my dad yet. But I am willing to be willing. Hopefully that gets me going up the steps, because I’m tired of trudging downward.

You? Any old resentments hanging out in the shadows? Are you willing to let go, or at least willing to be willing?

Bitterness imprisons life. Love releases it.
Bitterness paralyzes life. Love empowers it.
Bitterness sours life. Love sweetens it.
Bitterness sickens life. Love heals it.
Bitterness blinds life. Love anoints its eyes.
Harry Emerson Fosdick

I’d tell the younger version of me to choose love and forgiveness, to do his best to walk up the steps. The journey down isn’t all that satisfying.

How about you?

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